Start your engines! All 15 seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race US ranked from worst to best
In 2023, RuPaul’s Drag Race took over the muthatucking world. This year alone, hundreds of drag performers in countries from Sweden to Mexico, Brazil to Germany, have shown their charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent on the world stage.
In 2024, the spotlight is getting even brighter, as RuPaul’s drag empire continues to expand, with more than a dozen new seasons already confirmed – including the very first Global All Stars season, featuring queens from franchises worldwide.
Before then, though, we’re going back to where the drag phenomenon began back in 2009, with the US series. In January 2024, season 16 will begin, with 14 new queens battling it out for the crown and for the affection of the ever-growing fandom.
In honour of a new season arriving, we’ve ranked all 15 seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race US. Racers, start your engines, and may the best season win.
15. RuPaul’s Drag Race season 1 (2009)
One word, henny: budget. Or, lack of. While season one was the catalyst for Ru’s global Drag Race kingdom, and helped to bring drag and queer stories into the mainstream, it feels like a half-baked test run and a far cry from what the show has become today.
First of all, there’s that rotten vaseline filter, which made the season feel like it was an unearthed relic from the ‘70s. That’s probably one reason why it’s commonly referred to as ‘The Lost Season’.
RuPaul’s oddly soft voice throughout the season makes her seem like an actress compared to the audacious host we know now, while the set, werk room and mainstage all look like they were rented in the bottom floor of an abandoned LA office block.
That said, some Drag Race legends were born on season one. Ongina’s speech about living with HIV was one of the first indications that Drag Race was about more than just drag, while Shannel’s “I am beautiful” moment remains still one of the best contestant-judge confrontations.
Bebe Zahara Benet was a worthy winner, Nina Flowers was a fashion icon, and Tammie Brown was, well, Tammie Brown. They were without some of the classic Drag Race challenges, like Snatch Game and the Rusical, but they did what they could.
Drag Race season one is not the Drag Race we know and love, but the Drag Race we know and love wouldn’t exist without it.
Best lip-sync: BeBe Zahara Benet vs. Ongina – “Stronger” by Britney Spears
Best look: Nina Flowers’s “Drag On A Dime”
Best moment: Tammie Brown reading RuPaul for filth at the reunion. ‘Scuse your mouth?
14. RuPaul’s Drag Race season 13 (2021)
Season 13 had all the ingredients for a brilliant season. The cast was pretty stellar, with each queen serving something different.
There were phenomenal looks from Utica and GottMik, the later of whom also brought our first bit of representation for trans men on the show. Drama was delivered via Kandy Muse and Tamisha Iman, lip-syncs came courtesy of pros Denali and LaLa Ri, and even the dodgy acting challenges were salvaged by Rosé and Symone’s comedic chops.
Yet something was off. The initial “Porkchop Lounge” twist, which saw Elliott with Two Ts eliminated and then immediately return, was a pointless waste of time.
Consequently, it took four episodes for anyone to be eliminated. Plus, the season was filmed during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, putting paid to classic elements like the makeover challenge and celebrity guest judges.
Then, there’s the fact that RuPaul’s Drag Race UK season two – one of the best seasons in the entire franchise – was airing at the same time. Season 13 just couldn’t compete.
Best lip-sync: Denali vs. Kahmora Hall – “100% Pure Love” by Crystal Waters
Best look: GottMik’s “Finale Eleganza”
Best moment: RuPaul laughing for one minute straight at Utica denying and then admitting to smoking weed
13. RuPaul’s Drag Race season 14 (2022)
When season 14 was airing, it was brilliant viewing. It was a super strong, fresh cast, complete with five trans contestants, and there were some real stand out challenges: the Moulin Ru Rusical and the Daytona Wind acting challenge especially.
Yet there were too many elements, some within the producers’ control and others outside it, that make rewatching the season a little difficult. First of all, there were 16 episodes, including five episodes where no queens were sent home.
Daya Betty and Orion Story were both eliminated, before being brought back. Bosco was told to sashay away, before the silly “it’s chocolate” twist enabled her to stay. Jorgeous and DeJa Skye were sent packing in a messy double elimination, while for the first time, there was a top five instead of a top three or four.
Ultimately, the stakes just felt too low: there were too many opportunities for queens to stay, and so the thrill factor diminished. Throw in an rock bottom Snatch Game episode, and the early elimination of fan favourite Kornbread due to an ankle injury, and the season was just chaos from start to finish.
Willow Pill was a worthy winner though, and we’re sure Angeria Paris VanMicheals will be great on All Stars 9.
Best lip-sync: Jorgeous vs. Orion Story – “My Head & My Heart” by Ava Max
Best look: Willow Pill’s “Heart On”
Best moment: Lady Camden pretending to fall over during the “Chaps on the Runway” presentation, only to reveal a Freddie Mercury moustache
12. RuPaul’s Drag Race season 10 (2018)
On reflection, Vanessa Vanjie Mateo’s viral “Miss Vanjie” moment appeared to herald a new era in the Drag Race universe. It infiltrated social media in a way that Drag Race hadn’t ever done before, pushing the show further out of its queer bubble, and out into the big mainstream world. From that moment on, Drag Race became a true juggernaut of meme-making pop culture.
That said, the “Miss Vanjie” moment in the season’s first episode was its very best.
We did get some great lip-syncs from Eureka!, Monet X Change and Kameron Michaels, and Aquaria killed the Snatch Game and ball challenges hands down.
Yet the season never truly exceeded Vanjie’s exit moment, while the final two episodes left a bad taste in the mouth, following The Vixen’s uncomfortable exit from the reunion and Asia O’Hara’s cringeworthy butterfly lip-sync at the finale. A promising season that simply fell a little flat.
Best lip-sync: Monet X Change vs. Dusty Ray Bottoms – “Pound The Alarm” by Nicki Minaj
Best look: Kameron Michael’s “Feathers”
Best moment: Miss Vanjie … Miss Vanjie … Miss Vanjie …
11. RuPaul’s Drag Race season 11 (2019)
Drag Race season 11 gets a bad rap among the fandom, though it’s not entirely deserved. The season ultimately gave us one of the franchise’s most unique winners in Yvie Oddly, as well as – arguably – the best lip-sync of all time, with Yvie Oddly vs. Brooke Lynn Hytes.
There was plenty of drama to keep the fandom gripped, too (Rajah O’Hara vs. Yvie Oddly, Vanessa Vanjie Mateo vs. Yvie Oddly, Silky Nutmeg Ganache vs. Yvie Oddly – essentially, Yvie kept the season alive).
Though it was a cast stacked full of talent, it was also a stacked cast – at 15 queens long, some of the competitors failed to make enough of a mark, like Shuga Cain and Ariel Versace.
Plus, some of the queens just didn’t seem ready enough at the time; Rajah, Silky Nutmeg Ganache and Kahanna Montrese all either went home early or failed to find favour in the fandom, but have since made All Stars ruturns, and are now much-loved alumni.
Best lip-sync: Yvie Oddly vs. Brooke Lynn Hytes – “Sorry Not Sorry” by Demi Lovato, obviously
Best look: Vanessa Vanjie Mateo’s “What’s Your Sign?”
Best moment: Yvie Oddly vs. Brooke Lynn Hytes – “Sorry Not Sorry” by Demi Lovato. Again, obviously!
10. RuPaul’s Drag Race season 15 (2023)
After a couple of dud years, season 15 felt somewhat like a return to form – eventually. The new season kicked off with a fair bit of controversy, after the show moved to network MTV and each episode was cut down by 20 minutes.
In a cast of 16, the largest ever, numerous queens got lost in the fray, with some getting just a couple minutes’ airtime overall.
Halfway through the season and the longer episodes returned, while the full-length episodes for the first half of the season were made available in August. It felt too little too late for some fans, but on rewatching the season, it’s clear why the fandom was upset: this was a phenomenal group of queens who deserved a proper season.
Anetra’s “Walk That F*****g Duck” taekwondo performance is up there with Tatianna’s “Same Parts” in terms of the best talent show performances in herstory, while the spookily-timed ‘Wig Loose’ Rusical, which centred on drag being banned at a time where drag was literally being banned in the US, was an absolute highlight.
The best thing to come from season 15, though? Sasha Colby, of course. A renowned drag legend before she went on the show, her win may have been predictable, but for all the right reasons.
She smashed the challenges, gobbled on the runway, and became a beacon of light for trans people everywhere in a year where they needed it most. She said it best herself: she’s a G-O-D-D-E-S-S, that b***h is a goddess.
Best lip-sync: Anetra vs. Marcia Marcia Marcia – “Boss B***h” by Doja Cat
Best look: Sasha Colby’s “Puffer Please”
Best moment: Anetra walking that f*****g duck, tied with Sasha Colby walking away with the crown
9. RuPaul’s Drag Race season 2 (2010)
While season two suffers slightly from the same curses that fell on season one, i.e. a microscopic budget and a distinct lack of Michelle Visage, it’s also the season where Drag Race found its feet.
Nowadays, when a fan refers to “classic Drag Race“, they’re likely referring to season two, where cutthroat personalities were paramount, even if the wigs and outfits were a little on the crusty side.
In the near 15 years that have come since season two, the level of drama in 12 episodes of television has not been topped.
From Tatianna telling RuPaul how much she hated “complete b***h” and eventual winner Tyra Sanchez, to Mystique Summers Madison threatening Morgan McMichaels with an ass whooping, this was a season where fights and fallouts came first. And honestly? We were living for it.
Best lip-sync: Raven vs. Nicole Paige Brooks – “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)” by En Vogue
Best look: Tyra Sanchez’s “High Class Drag”
Best moment: Besides Tatianna vs. The World, it has to be the very first Snatch Game – which Tatianna also dominated. A queen!
8. RuPaul’s Drag Race season 8 (2016)
Season eight is by far one of the cleanest seasons of Drag Race to date, and it pays off. There are no major twists or turns (bar the Dax Exclamation Point and Laila McQueen double sashay), and no brand new elements thrown in for no reason (Shade Tree? What Shade Tree?).
It’s simply 12 queens turning it out across 10 episodes. It’s a short season, but it mostly works.
Season eight is also home to some of the very best – and most underrated – queens in Drag Race herstory.
Bob The Drag Queen was a clear winner, but she’s more than a Drag Race winner – she’s touring with Madonna, for goodness sake. Naomi Smalls and Kim Chi are two of the very best fashion queens to stomp (or wobble, in Kim Chi’s case) down that runway.
Thorgy Thor is comedy gold (another All Stars return is a MUST), Derrick Barry was made for TV, and even Acid Betty, who many saw as the season’s villain, has one of the best track records ever for an eighth place queen.
Bob’s Uzo Aduba/Carol Channing Snatch Game moment, the late Chi Chi DeVayne and her show-stopping “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” lip-sync performance, Cynthia Lee Fontaine’s “STRONG, GAY WOMAN!” scene – there’s a lot to remember it for.
Even kimono gate, during which half the queens wore the same Madonna look on the runway, is now an iconic faux pax.
Best lip-sync: Chi Chi DeVayne vs. Thorgy Thor – “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” by Jennifer Holliday
Best look: Acid Betty’s “Grande Finale”
Best moment: Chi Chi DeVayne’s dress breaking during the “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” lip-sync. Pure theatre
7. RuPaul’s Drag Race season 7 (2015)
Drag Race season 7 is one that the fandom, for some reason, seem to unanimously dislike. I for one will not stand for it.
I’ll say it plainly: without season seven, Drag Race would not exist in the global capacity that it does today.
The seventh season birthed Trixie Mattel and Katya – unquestionably the most popular, most successful duo to come from the show. With a combined social media following of more than 10 million, an award-winning web series, a make-up company, TV series and even a hotel brand between them, Trixie and Katya paved the way when it comes to forging post-Drag Race careers.
Violet Chachki, for better or worse, upped the game tenfold when it comes to runway looks. Jasmine Masters, even before Vanjie, proved that Drag Race had viral potential.
Yes, the season itself was full of questionable choices: the sheer robbery of Max, the odd decision to send Trixie home over Pearl, the ridiculous acting challenges. But season seven had character, high fashion, and a chockload of humour. It’s great!
Best lip-sync: Katya vs. Kennedy Davenport – “Roar” by Katy Perry
Best look: Violet Chachki’s Fall Collection ruveal
Best moment: Violet Chachki’s Fall Collection ruveal!
6. RuPaul’s Drag Race season 4 (2012)
As Whitney Houston once said: it’s a classic. If we were to write a book on the most iconic moments in Drag Race herstory, season four would fill half the pages.
The rivalry between eventual winner Sharon Needles and finalist Phi Phi O’Hara remains the most infamous of all Drag Race seasons, while other arguments – including Lashauwn Beyond vs. Jiggly Caliente’s “This is not RuPaul’s Best Friend Race!” fight and Phi Phi O’Hara vs. Willam’s “Your tone seems very pointed right now” confrontation – have cemented themselves in Drag Race lore.
Sharon Needles’ original, horror aesthetic welcomed in a new breed of drag queen into the Drag Race universe, while Willam’s shock disqualification altered the course of the show’s history forever – some fans are convinced that the firebrand contestant would have won, had it not been for her rule break.
Latrice “Eat It!” Royale became an immediate fan favourite the second she entered the werkroom, while Dida Ritz gave one of the very best lip-syncs of all time with her performance of Natalie Cole’s “This Will Be” – while Cole was on the judging panel.
If season four lets itself down in any capacity, it’s that several of the queens have since left the spotlight, opting not to return to All Stars, unlike the early eliminated queens from other series. Madame LaQueer, The Princess, Kenya Michaels, Alyssa Summers – All Stars needs you!
Best lip-sync: Dida Ritz vs.The Princess – “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” by Natalie Cole
Best look: Sharon Needles’ “Apocalyptic Couture”
Best moment: Willam being disqualified
5. RuPaul’s Drag Race season 12 (2020)
Season 12 had the cards stacked against it: as Monet X Change once said, Jaida Essence Hall is the first Drag Race winner to be crowned on a Zoom call.
Landing on our screens during the first weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown, the usual reunion and live finale had to be abandoned, leading to the final three – Jaida, Gigi Goode and Crystal Methyd – having to lip-sync for the crown in their living rooms.
With such turbulence, fans expected the season to flop. It did not.
Thanks to an incredible cast of queens, including the soft and supple Heidi N Closet, safe star Jan, and fierce broccally Dahlia Sin, the season flew.
It delivered one of the best-ever Rusicals in Madonna: The Unauthorized Rusical, an epic Snatch Game thanks to Gigi Goode and Jackie Cox, hilarious acting performances from Jaide Essence “Look over there!” Hall, and killer runways from literally all the queens. Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent personified.
Best lip-sync: Gigi Goode vs. Widow Von’Du – “Starships” by Nicki Minaj
Best look: Crystal Methyd’s “Superfan Makeover”
Best moment: The entire Madonna Rusical, tbh
4. RuPaul’s Drag Race season 3 (2011)
More than a decade on from season three, and we are still yet to see a top three as insanely well-rounded as Raja, Manila Luzon and Alexis Mateo (bar perhaps in season five and season nine, but we’ll get to that). Each one knew comedy, performance, lip-sync, and fashion, and though Raja was the rightful winner, any one of them could have taken the crown.
That’s without even mentioning that season three was home to Shangela, one of the franchise’s most successful queens, chaotic icon Yara Sofia, Sandwich Artist hater Delta Work, the OG henny Stacey Layne Matthews, and of course, Mimi ImFurst.
From Mimi chucking India Ferrah over her shoulders, leading to one of RuPaul’s best lines – “Drag is not a contact sport!” – to Alexis Mateo making “BAM!” a thing, Drag Race season three was one for the history books.
Perhaps I’m biased too, as I love a design challenge, but season three had FOUR of them – a money ball, a hair ball, a cake couture outfit, and the first challenge, a Christmas creation. It forced the queens to use their imagination in a way that we haven’t seen to the same degree since. The whole season felt like the true essence of what drag is truly about.
Best lip-sync: Manila Luzon vs. Delta Work – “MacArthur Park” by Donna Summer
Best look: Raja’s “Extravagant Drag”
Best moment: Mimi ImFurst throwing India Ferrah over her shoulders during their lip-sync
3. RuPaul’s Drag Race season 9 (2017)
There’s a reason that three of season nine’s top four queens – Sasha Velour, Shea Couleé and Trinity The Tuck – all have crowns. Plus, the only reason the fourth, Peppermint, hasn’t won one yet, is because she’s yet to return to All Stars. Truly, season nine’s top four is the Mount Rushmore of Drag Race.
Yet, even away from the excellence of the top four, the entire season nine cast came to slay. They came to murder the competition.
Valentina attracted a fandom like no other queen seen on the show before, while Eureka! went in so hard that she popped her knee, and became the first queen to leave the show due to injury. Nina Bo’Nina Brown’s frankly insane looks took the runway to yet another level, while Aja’s fierce lip-syncs and even fiercer attitude brought gag-worthy drama. This season is perfect, it’s beautiful, it looks like Linda Evangelista.
The season was always going to be incredible though. Which other season can say it opened with a guest appearance by Lady Gaga, who went on to judge a Lady Gaga themed runway? Wild.
Add in a green Alexis Michelle, a stationary Charlie Hides, a ruturn from Queen of Cucu Cynthia Lee Fontaine, and Farrah Moan, well, moaning, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a frankly insanely good season. Plus, that rose petal lip-sync? Don’t get me started.
Best lip-sync: Sasha Velour vs. Shea Couleé – “So Emotional” by Whitney Houston
Best look: Every single promo look. I’m so serious
Best moment: Sasha Velour’s competition-winning rose petal ruveal
2. RuPaul’s Drag Race season 6 (2014)
It is rare that there is a Drag Race season where literally every single contestant who is still doing drag could compete on an All Stars season, and do well. With season six though, that’s entirely possible.
Half the cast already have done. Laganja Estranja and Joslyn Fox will no doubt be on an upcoming season. Even the early out queens, Vivacious, Kelly Mantle and April Carrion, would slay if they ever made a ruturn.
That’s because season six is the best cast in Drag Race herstory, period. Each queen brought something incredible to show off: BenDeLaCreme and Bianca Del Rio were versatile comedy gold, Milk and Courtney Act tore up the runway. Adore Delano brought charm; Trinity K Bonet was lip-sync magic. Laganja and Gia Gunn brought drama. It all just melded together so perfectly.
It also helped that the season’s challenges were properly thought out.
The season gave us our first fully-fledged Rusical, while the scream queens acting challenge was genuinely well-written and worth our time. We got a stand-up challenge, makeover, music performance, ball – and each one was carried out almost flawlessly. The decisions made sense; the gags genuine, not forced by production. It was simply a rewarding season to watch.
I believe it was Laganja Estranja who instructed season six to “get sickening”. Baby, it did.
Best lip-sync: Trinity K Bonet vs. April Carrion – “I’m Every Woman” by Chaka Khan
Best look: Trinity K Bonet’s “Animal Kingdom”
Best moment: BenDeLaCreme’s sublime Maggie Smith impersonation
1. RuPaul’s Drag Race season 5 (2013)
Can I get an amen? Season five is the golden age of Drag Race. From start to end, it was reality TV gold. The casting team could spend 50 years searching, but they will never, ever top the dynamic that the season five queens had.
From episode one, when friends-to-enemies Alyssa Edwards and Coco Montrese walked in, aghast to see each other there, to the final episode, which saw underdog Jinkx Monsoon fend off mean girl trio Roxxxy Andrews, Detox and Alaska to take crown, season five was filled to the brim with storylines.
We got our first double sashay away with Vivienne Pinay and Honey Mahogany. Roxxxy gave us our first wig reveal, inspiring a whole runway on All Stars 3 and changing the lip-sync game forever. Detox’s black and white finale runway was so iconic, that it too inspired a runway theme on season eight. Ivyyyyyyyyyy Winterrrrrrrrrrs remains the only queen to ever walk the runway in stilts.
Season five was a season of firsts, and that’s without even mentioning the drama – the endless drama! – and dictionary-worthy quotes. Back rolls! I’ve had it, officially! Sequins gown! Look how f*****g orange you look! The labels faded! Hiiiii!
From start to finish, season five is not only the best season of Drag Race overall, it’s one of the best seasons of reality TV ever.
So, if you’ve lost all hope today, if your car has broken down, or if you’re empty: it’s time to rewatch Drag Race season five.
Best lip-sync: Roxxxy Andrews vs. Alyssa Edwards – “Whip My Hair” by Willow Smith
Best look: Detox’s “Grande Finale”
Best moment: “Girl, look how f*****g orange you look!”
RuPaul’s Drag Race season 16 begins on MTV and WOW Presents Plus on Friday 5 January 2024.
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